Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
The three hardest words you may ever have to say, “I forgive you.” Often those words are not only hard but impossible. But we know those are healing words. We know those words can begin the binding up of wounds that run deep.
Dr. Robert Smith, a pastor and seminary professor, writes movingly of his struggle to forgive:
I remember so very well October 30th, I will never forget this darkest day of my life. Our son was working at his restaurant when four young men got into the store, jammed the safe, and then grabbed him after jamming the register. When he could not open it, the other three fled and the one stood on top of the counter and fired one shot into his body. Thirty-four years of life ended suddenly. Brokenhearted, painful.
The Lord moved on my heart to write the young man. He's in prison now. He was 17 when he murdered Tony. I wanted to write him because the Lord had been working on my heart. I wrote him in prison and it took him over two years to respond in writing, and this is the letter I received:
"Dear Mr. Smith, let me say that I am truly sorry for your loss. I really am. Also, I hope that this is really you that I am writing because I have received a lot of threat mail from your family members and friends. So that's why I never wrote back. But today I thought that I should give it a try because I really wanted to talk to you. I've been locked up three years now and the worst three years of my life. I don't think that I'll make it much longer though. You know, I grew up in church my whole life. I just hung with the wrong crowd on that night. I'm sorry. You probably know my pastor, Rev. ______. I hope to hear from you very, very soon. Thank you for forgiving me. Can you keep praying for me too? This is getting too hard for me to bear, and sometimes I feel just like giving up on life."
Robert Smith continues:
Well, the Lord just kept working on my heart because the Lord let me see what it took for him to forgive me. He let me see what a mess I was. He let me understand that when he forgives he forgives unconditionally. He wanted me to understand that if you ever want to get beyond this you've got to forgive, that you can't do it on your own. So I wrote this young man because I want to be on his visitation list. I want to go up to tell him about Jesus. I want to let him know that I love him. I want this young man and my son hug together in heaven one day. Because forgiveness is not difficult, forgiveness is impossible without God.
How can we forgive? Only by seeing how God has forgiven us! There is a connection between the forgiveness we receive and the forgiveness we give. Jesus said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). Forgiveness, the balm that can begin to heal you, is possible only through God.